Futures Volume 3 issue 4 1971 [doi 10.1016%2F0016-3287%2871%2990058-9] I.F. Clarke -- Prophets and predictors- 1. The utility of Utopia.pdf

396 Prophets and Predictors Prophets and Predictors 1. THE UTILITY OF UTOPIA I. F. Clarke introduces :a new series of articles in which he explores the theme that utopian and social fiction has been a western invention that responds at all times to the society of its day and its needs. “We have agreed, then, Glaucon, that in the city whose constitution is to be perfect, wives and children and all education will be in comm
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   96 Prophets and Predictors Prophets and Predictors 1. THE UTILITY OF UTOPIA I. F. Clarke introduces :a new series of articles in which he explores the theme that utopian and social fiction has been a western invention that responds at all times to the society of its day and its needs. “We have agreed then Glaucon that in the city whose constitution is to be perfect, wives and children and all education will be in common: so will warlike and peaceful occupations: and those who have shown themselves best in philosophy and war are to be their kings.” Glaucon, Polemarchus, Adeimantus and the others all agreed with Socrates; and the world has gone on assenting-or dissenting-ever since Plato worked out his social theories in the dialogues of the Republic some twenty-four centuries ago. Plato’s Republic is, therefore, the precise and proper place at which to begin any examination of utopian literature, since the Retublic is the point of srcin for all the ideal states and dystopias that have affected the course of ideas in Europe and throughout the world. In fact, it is no extravagance to claim that the entire body of utopian fiction is little more than a series of variations on Plato. As the first in the field he was able to present-once and for all-the basic dilemma that puts power and passion into the dullest utopia-the eternal conflict between individual desires and public necessities, between the happiness of the citizen and the security of the state. From Plato the literary tradition runs straight to Sir Thomas More and on to the many visionaries, ideologues and propa- gandists of the last hundred years. Professor I. F. Clarke is Head of the English Studies Department University of Strathclyde UK. In one way or another they all show how every ideal state is an answer to the srcinal Platonic poser about the perfect social system. The world of the seven- teenth century, for example, found very different patterns of the ideal life in Bacon’s fiw Atlantis 1627) and Campanella’s Cittci de1 Sole 1623) ; for the one-time Lord Chancellor of England was all for science, education and the wise government of the learned, whereas the Italian friar revived medieval ideas in his vision of a theo- cratic state where all the citizens live like monks within a walled city. After the utopias of More, Bacon, and Campanella had revealed the workings of the new literary device, the ideal state became the most favoured means of social comment and criticism. In spite of the stereotyped pattern of the voyage to distant lands the form flourished throughout Europe for two centuries, because it could accommodate the most diverse ideas. Anything the would-be reformers wished to propose- from polygamy to the abolition of monarchy and religious toleration- could find convincing proof in the descriptions of perfect societies. The vigour of the utopian method lay in the opportunity it gave the idealists to demolish the corruptions of the day and build in their place a truly rational and planned society. To study the history of the utopias is, then, to chart the course of political theories and the growth of social institutions; for the utopias have always responded to the FUTURES December 97  Profhets and Predictors 397 peculiar circumstances of their times. Behind the theocratic government that Samuel Gott described in .Nova Solyma (1648) one can observe the effects of Puritanism in the frequent appeals to the Old Testament and in the extraordinary precautions to guard against the perils of sensuality. And yet the social schematising changes completely in Oceana 1656), written by James Harrington, Gott’s contem- porary and fellow Puritan. Harrington based his ideal state on the popular will and had somewhat optimistically planned Oceana for the instruction of Oliver Cromwell. The Lord Protector remarked that he had no intention of giving up any of his powers. He was not interested in the radical proposals for a Senate that framed the laws and a democratic Assembly that voted on those laws. But others took up Harring- ton’s ideas: they can be seen at work in the theories of Thomas Jefferson and in the constitution of several American states. They had considerable effect in France, since Abbe Sieyb modelled the Constitution de l’an VIII (1789) on Harrington’s ideas and that pamphlet provided a guide to action in the first stages of the French Revolution. Later on, when science and technolo- gy had begun to work profound changes in human society, the ideal states reacted to the new conditions by including in their scope all the problems of modern industrialism-from the growth of population and the rise of great cities to compulsory education and universal peace. But at all times the social schematists divided according to their view of Blake’s charge: “General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite and flatterer”. Those who believed that social organisation made for happy citizens found their answers in elaborate systems of state control. In Etienne Cabet’s Le Voyage en Icarie 1840) there is a detailed account of the workings of a highly centralised community. Al- though Cabet locates Icaria in the Indian Ocean, his ideal island is really France with a different history. The basic principles of this happier France are complete equality and absolute conformity. The levelling effects of the new machinery have begun to affect the construction of utopias; for Cabet argued that tech- nology would develop to the point when mass production and mass con- sumption must lead to total uniformity amongst the citizens. He had great hopes for the future, and his Icarie was the first in a series of utopian predictions that looked ahead to the time when science would have eased the burdens of mankind. The authors of such prophecies as Le Monde en l’an 2000, Anno Domini 2071, Annals of the twenty-ninth century, L’anno 3000 all agreed with Cabet abou the inevi- table progress of science and society, but many of them had very different plans for the ideal state of the future. One non-conformist answer to Cabet’s rigid communism appeared in Freiland 1889)) an account ofa perfect industrial state in Africa, written by the Austrian economist Theodor Hertzka. The success of the imaginary Freeland follows the new pattern of enterprise in Europe: the world press announces the foundation of the Internationale Freie Gesellschaft ; volunteers set sail for Africa, and Freeland is founded. Everything demonstrates the advan- tages of industrial capitalism, classical economic theories, and individual liberty. The prophecies of Cabet and Hertzka together with Edward Bellamy’s Look- ing Backward (1888) were the most popu- lar and effective propaganda pieces on behalf of the ideal state that appeared in the nineteenth century. All of them went into numerous translations, and they all ran to many editions. Cabet inspired imitators, and in the 1890s there was an extraordinary activity in Austria and Germany when hundreds of societies sprang up to realise Hertzka’s scheme of a planned FUTURES December 97   98 Prophets and Predictors industrial community in Africa. There was similar enthusiasm in the USA where Looking Backward sold more than one million copies in five years, and several hundred ‘Bellamy Clubs’ were established to put the ideas ofthe master to the test of practice. The success of these utopian predictions depended entirely on the way in which their authors-French, Austrian, and Ameri- can-were able to find all-embracing answers to the complex problems of the new industrial civilisation. Their utopias were not a way out. They provided a way forward to more harmonious social systems by showing how method and organisation could- and would-apply technology to the benefit of all. And so Bellamy spoke for his fellow visionaries when he said at the end of Looking Backward that he had written “in the belief that the Golden Age lies before us and not behind us, and is not far away. Our children will surely see it, and we too, who are already men and women, if we desire it by our faith and good works”. And yet the abiding irony behind these nineteenth century predictions is that these three utopias were lament- able failures as literature. Bellamy reads like the author of a government report, and Cabet had so little sense of style that he introduced a ludicrous love affair in order-he hoped-to interest his women readers. But the verdict of the age went in their favour, because they dealt directly with the condition of contemporary society and they provided grounds for hope by describing an apparently realisable future in which all-especially the new literate masses-were able to find equality, social justice and materialwell- being. The irony of this success carries over to the utopian prophecies of their most eminent opponents-W. H. Hudson and William Morris-who wrote magnificently and described arcadian worlds of the future that lost them all hope of mass success. In Hudson’s A Crystal Age 1887) and in Morris’s News from Nowhere (1891) the English language gained two of the finest utopias ever written; but the world has for the most part remained indiff- erent to these admirable accounts of the time when industrialism has van- ished and mankind has reverted to living in small communities, making everything by hand and rejecting all the blessings of science and technology. All modern prophecies and predic- tions derive from these two uncompro- mising attitudes to the condition-of- society question. For those who look on industrialism as the primal sin the solution is to live without the blessings of technology. Some clearly enjoy the future worlds they describe. Chesterton undoubtedly delighted in the adventures of The .Napoleon of Netting Hill (1904) and Hermann Hesse found tranquility in the calm world of Dus Glasperlenspiel 1946). But others in recent times-the authors of Brave .New World, 1984, Player Piano-have shown the consequences of misapplied technology by describing future epochs of despair or destruction. The constructive tradition of Hertzka and Bellamy has, however, continued through Wells, Shaw, Stapledon, and a few more recent writers. But the opposition have had their revenge, since the fires have gone out in the constructive utopia. The times have changed. The grand designs for the ideal state have largely vanished from literature, because we have achieved once dreamed-of levels of existence, because during the last 50 years the peoples of our planet have experienced all the varieties of millennial optimism-totalitarian dic- tatorships, communist oligarchies, and free-enterprise capitalism. It seems that we are living in a post-utopian age. The sign of our time is a profound doubt about mankind’s ability to live up to the ideals it professes. We have, in fact, returned to the point where FUTURES December 87  Figure 2. The voyage to foreign parts followed by shipwreck or an unexpected arri\rrtI in an undis- covered kingdoml was the standard device for transportirq readess ro the ideal state.
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